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May 4, 2010 12:46 PM

Portland's Mayor Sam Adams supports a city boycott of travel to Arizona as a show of opposition to a new anti-Hispanic law, Willamette Week reports.

No word on whether Eugene Mayor Kitty Piercy supports a similar ban because of the law critics have called fascist. Of course, such a ban would be largely symbolic as few city employees travel much to Arizona. A more meaningful gesture may be a ban on purchasing one of Arizona's most controversial exports: Tasers.

Taser International is headquartered in Scottsdale, Arizona. The Eugene Police department wants to give the corporation tens of thousands of dollars for controversial electroshock weapons that critics say violate basic human rights.

April 29, 2010 04:35 PM

One of Eugene's newest public art installations, a directional pillar at the train station, memorializes a 1997 incident when Eugene police emptied every can of pepper spray they could find on tree sitters.

Here's the art:

Here's a look at what happened:

April 27, 2010 09:09 AM

Pickathon is not your average summer festival.

I'd heard that, before I went last year, but you have to experience it for the difference to really be clear. It's not small — it sprawls over 80 acres of Pendarvis Farm, outside Portland — but it feels small, intimate and unexpectedly comfortable. It's not crowded. It's laid-back, but not super-hippie. You don't go to get all jacked up on cheap beer and fast food; you go to nibble ice cream and maybe find a shady corner of the beer garden to enjoy a microbrew.

(My posts about a Saturday spent at last year's Pickathon are here and here.)

Today, Pickathon announced the last additions to their 2010 lineup, which has Dr. Dog, The Fruit Bats, Punch Brothers, Blind Boy, Cardboard Songsters and Little Wings joining a list that already ranged from Bonnie "Prince" Billy to Portland's Richmond Fontaine and Weinland to Langhorn Slim, The Cave Singers and Black Prairie.

If you see a lot of familiar names on the full lineup, it's because there's a particular overlap between Pickathon's once-roots-oriented, now more broad musical selections and the bands that find a good reception in Eugene. Black Prairie's Chris Funk, who's playing his first Pickathon this year, says via email, "It seems to be a great combination of folk and indie rock, which is basically my playlist. Just enough bluegrass and Americana mixed with indie stars."

Funk says he's looking forward to seeing Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Heartless Bastards, Sallie Ford and others but, he says, "I usually just go to these festivals and wander, just try to see bands I've never heard of."

At Pickathon, that wander can take you to a stage in the middle of the woods and back out again, to where two main stages sit at the base of a gentle slope. Two indoor, barn-like stages round out the places at which bands usually play multiple sets over the course of the weekend. When asked what he's heard about Pickathon that makes is particularly appealing, Funk says, "It's a camping festival on a really great piece of property that is very, very close to Portland. I think if you run out of 'supplies' there is a New Seasons about 2 miles away, but it's got a great view of Mount Hood on this great horse farm nestled into a forest."

"Nestled" is the word that really sets Pickathon apart. You don't feel defensive, like you've got to guard your personal space or keep an eye on your blanket. It might get trodden upon by dirty kids' feet, but half an hour later, you'll be glad those same kids have super-soakers and are pointing them in your direction. You just nestle in for the weekend and forget that Portland is just a few miles away.

Pickathon takes place Aug. 6-8 at Pendarvis Farm outside Portland. Discount tickets are currently $115 (camping included; parking is extra), but will rise to $130 when the discounted ones are sold out.

April 26, 2010 02:13 PM

Where were we? Or rather, when were we? Last month. Let's just cut to the chase.

Between the “Creating a Music Town” panel in the morning and the Jared Mees show, I mostly missed stuff on SXSW's last full day. I went to the IFC Crossroads House and wrote and just missed Frightened Rabbit. I had lunch with a friend — the first real food sit-down meal I’d had in days — and missed the last showing of the award-winning Tiny Furniture. I went to see Fang Island at the wrong time. And then I made my way to the Portland showcase put on by Riot Act, where the weather, dim and damp and colder by the second, made everything feel maybe just a little too much like home.

Jared Mees and the Grown Children @ Liberty Bar
Jared Mees was singing about “Strong Black Coffee” to a small but dedicated gaggle of folks in the Liberty Bar’s damp backyard. I assume most of them, like me, were kind of wishing the drinks in our hands would transform into cups of coffee.

Jokes were cracked about fingers slowly thawing out. The rain stopped for a little while. I admired the coats on those more prepared for the weather and wondered if anyone could focus on anything but keeping warm. The Grown Children were totally charming and not at all restrained by the weather.

Titus Andronicus @ Scoot Inn
Did I mention it was fucking cold? I think I did. I also mentioned this show a lot in this post, which was about Titus Andronicus’ show a week later at a house in Whiteaker — a show which was a lot louder and a lot warmer. But in Austin, in the cold, in parkas and kneesocks and suffering a truly biting wind, TA were fantastic, ferocious and unexpectedly endearing. And the Fortress of Solitude reference in “No Future Part Three: Escape From No Future” just seemed all the more appropriate.

Gwar @ Mess With Texas
Walking back to the main drag, cup of tea in my hands doing the job of a good pair of gloves, I heard this … noise coming from behind the Mess With Texas fence, on which people were precariously perched. On tiptoes, I peered over the fence — and saw Gwar. They don’t even have to do anything. They just stand there, and their costumes say everything. People were watching from the rooftops across the street; one lucky bastard was perched in a tree. I stayed long enough to watch the band spray the adoring crowd with fake blood. It was loud, ridiculous and incredible. And best watched from a safe distance.

Rival Schools @ Red 7 Patio
To my total surprise, this was one of the highlights of SXSW — a show by a band that broke up after one early-oughts record (clearly, they’ve since reformed). I’ve listened to Rival Schools’ 2001 album United by Fate enough to know that there’s one song on it I always think of as “that one really good Rival Schools song.”

Or so I thought. (Keep reading...)

As it turned out, I’ve listend to that record enough to know most of the songs on it — and most of them hold up shockingly well. The crowd at Red 7’s outdoor patio was mostly male, mostly taller than me, and mostly in some state of shaved-headedness. They were also in a state of modest glee; there was no crazy dancing or even pogoing, but there were more smiles than I’d seen on the faces of any audience all week — and the biggest one may have been on the face of singer/guitarist Walter Schreifels, who has a solo album coming out soon. Some bands seem tired of playing their old songs; he seemed delighted by them. “This is the closest you’re going to get to Quicksand,” Schreifels said, referring to his mid-‘90s post-hardcore band, before breaking into a cover of The Smiths’ “How Soon is Now?” that worked far better than it should’ve. Schreifels has one of those perpetually hoarse, agonized voices that lends a particular urgency to the band’s every song; if there’s a certain dated, alt-rock feel to some of the guitar tones on United By Fate, that’s just all the more reason to look forward to something new from a band that writes such deliciously terse songs — hardcore past and heart on sleeve.

Joan of Arc @ Galaxy Room
I still don’t get Joan of Arc, and I’m OK with that. Sometimes their music is pretty, sometimes it’s noodlely and proggy, sometimes it veers toward catchy and sometimes it makes me feel inexplicably twitchy. The way people describe it is nothing like how it sounds to me, which is interesting, and a fun experiment in expectations vs. personal perception, but I wasn’t in the mood for arty post-rock (bandleader Tim Kinsella uses “cryptic feyness and poststructuralist lyricism,” according to the Austin AV Club) and was easily lured away by Rumor Fest 2010: Word was that Mos Def was going to be playing at the Mohawk. I hauled ass up the street, only to find that, according to Twitter, Mos Def was currently playing a MySpace show some blocks away. I sulked, watched Death for a little while and then started to fade. Rapidly. I stopped at Japandroids’ show at the Galaxy Room long enough to regiter LOUD GUITARS! SHOUTING WOO FUN TIMES GOOD STUFF HELLO BOYS YOU ARE PUNK ROCK AND I AM TIRED. And then I called it a night, with one last show on the horizon: singer-songwriter Devon Sproule at the Ghost Room the next afternoon, where I sat with a bloody Mary and my laptop and a happy smile; Sproule, a tiny woman with a storytelling, country tinge to her songs, plays like she’s just as lost in her songs as the most deafening rock dude from the night before might’ve been. It was a perfect note on which to end the week.

In closing: Do you know how many bands there are with “bells” in the name? And how many of them I wish I’d seen? To the latter, I can answer, At least two. But SXSW, this first time, is all about the woulda-coulda-shouldas. I shoulda gone to see The xx in a church, Superchunk anywhere, the Dum Dum Girls, Broken Bells, that other band everyone else wrote about (there are about 19 of these). Not that I’m complaining. SXSW was amazing, a learning experience, sensory overload, and I started making rules for next year about two days in:

1: PLAN BETTER.
2: Do not see bands you’ve already seen unless they are really and truly your favorite bands. Go see random shit!
3: Day parties are your best friend. Schedule those like crazycakes.
4: Check in everywhere on Foursquare; that way you have a record, a week later when you think you’ve lost your mind, of where the hell you were. And add notes.
5: There is no try. Just do. You can’t do it wrong, but you can’t do it right, either. There’s just too much. It’s beautiful.

April 26, 2010 02:31 PM

I want a dragon.

That was about all I was capable of saying as How to Train Your Dragon's end credits rolled. My equally enchanted friend and I watched drawings of different dragon species scroll past, debating which of Toothless-the-dragon’s traits were most charming. Was it the catlike head tilt? The attempted smile, in imitation of Hiccup (Jay Baruchel), the skinny, hapless young Viking who captures then frees Toothless? The love of raw, dripping fish? The reluctant affection? The heartbreaking loyalty? The silent expressiveness?

If you’re rolling your eyes, scurry along, please; no need for that. How to Train Your Dragon, an animated wonder of a film, does have often-familiar, heartwarming themes about individuality, acceptance, teamwork and prosthetics. It also has wicked awesome dragons (two heads! tiny little wings! unexpected full-body fire!), bumbling Vikings and a delightfully smart main female character, Astrid (America Ferrera), who quickly figures out that Hiccup is hiding something. A scrawny Viking whose attempts to help his village usually wreak more havoc than happiness, Hiccup is an unlikely candidate for Bestest Dragon Fighter Ever. But in dragon training — where Hiccup, Astrid, a pair of scrap-happy twins (Kristin Wiig and T.J. Miller), a D&D nerd (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) and a would-be Casanova (Jonah Hill) are instructed by the enthusiastic Gobber (Craig Ferguson) — Hiccup becomes the star. It’s his mysterious talent for charming the beasts that does it.

And where has Hiccup learned these dragon-taming skills? Why, while bonding with Toothless, of course. Dragon has a passel of exaggerated Viking characters and an equal number of entertainingly varied dragons, but at heart, it’s a boy-and-his-horse (or dog, or whatever) story. It’s just that the horse is a mischievous, clever dragon with an injured tail. The injury is Hiccup’s fault; the fix is Hiccup’s invention. Under everything — the endearing bonding montage; the inventive training sequences; the things that bring Hiccup and his father (Gerard Butler) together and push them apart — runs a thread of personal responsibility.

You can, if you like, just watch Dragon and coo over the beautiful parts (dragons and clouds make an incredible combination) and get a little misty at the heartbreaking moments. But if you take it apart to see how it works, the film — directed by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBlois, whom we also have to thank for the similarly wonderful Lilo and Stitch — just gets even better. Parallel moments pretty up the structure; characters’ seemingly silly obsessions work out to be quite useful; even the hotshot kid needs a rescue when it comes time for the big battle. Hiccup’s mistakes aren’t without consequence, but they’re not overwrought, either. Nothing is out of proportion — well, with one very sizable exception.

How to Train Your Dragon, which snuck back up to the top of the box office chart this week, is one of the best movies of the year thus far — not one of the best children’s movies, or the best animated movies, or whatever other qualifier you might think you ought to use. It’s simply outstanding. And it will make you want a dragon.

April 19, 2010 11:25 AM

The Oregonian compared local Congressman Peter DeFazio to Bart Simpson in a front page article today:

"In the mold of that other Springfield celebrity, Bart Simpson, DeFazio is an equal opportunity provocateur. He is notorious for coloring outside the lines of the Democratic Party...."

Huh? DeFazio is clearly less yellow and has less hair than Bart.

He may also be less progressive than advertised. The Oregonian notes DeFazio's good grades from the NRA and reports:

"He is a Democrat and calls himself a progressive, but he votes liberal 61.5 percent of the time, the lowest of the four Democrats in the [Oregon] delegation."

Or maybe DeFazio did this O piece to reposition himself rightward so he can run for a statewide race? Does he share Homer's views on nuclear power?

April 16, 2010 09:32 AM

Just look at that burger. Just look at it. Do you want to eat it yet? It’s vegetarian. But don’t let that stop you.

“I started dreaming of opening a vegan fast food burger joint when I went vegan 14 years ago,” says Cara Eddo, whose Eddo Burger food cart debuts Saturday. Eddo’s name might sound familiar; she was Eugene’s Sexiest Bartender in 2008, when she was at The Vintage, making homemade maraschino cherries or limoncello. “I’ve just always made stuff,” says Eddo. “Whatever I’m doing, I always try to sneak food into the process.”

Eddo says that when she went vegan, she realized there weren’t any “quick, really damn good” options for the meat-free. She recognizes that there are many more veggie options these days, but hopes the Eddo Burger — the evolution of which involved “about a million recipes and a hundred dinner parties” — will stand out.

Nearly everything at Eddo Burger is made from scratch using local, organic and mostly gluten-free ingredients. The burger is the centerpiece, but the menu also offers tofu nuggets, sweet potato fries, the “Western Fakin’ Cheeseburger,” breakfast sandwiches, hash browns and curly churros.

Eddo says she’s excited to be part of the Northwest’s growing food cart scene, but her ambitions don’t stop in Eugene. “The ultimate goal is to bring my menu to the entire country, in the form of a veggie fast-food chain, complete with drive-thru/bike thru. I’m serious,” she says. For now, though, the first Eddo Burger opens at noon Saturday, April 17, in the Tiny Tavern parking lot (394 Blair Blvd.). The cart will be open until late evening, and Tiny's is right there for rock and beer, too. EDIT: The Underlings and The Latrines play at 4 pm (’til 6) as part of the opening festivities.

Please go eat a burger for me, as I'm out of town. OK? Thanks.

Eddo Burger | Eddo Burger Facebook page

April 5, 2010 05:16 PM

Forget the sterilized gun sight videos the Pentagon and cable news have fed you. Here's a look at the shocking reality of the Iraq War:

No wonder people hate us.

April 5, 2010 01:22 PM

This is one in a series of posts about the panels at this year's South by Southwest — most panels were part of the Interactive track, but some were in Film or Music. All raised a lot of questions, some of which I've asked below; I hope you'll want to join in the conversation.

The journalism-related panels at SXSW were mostly extremely useful, inspiring and thought-provoking. If they occasionally got bogged down in a sort of woe-is-us rehash of the things that are wrong, and the perceived divides between new and old media, it’s to be expected; we all get bogged down in (and depressed by) those lines of thinking from time to time.

That problem is understandable. What’s less so is the way the broad journalism discussions — the dramatically named Media Armageddon panel, the equally sweepingly titled How to Save Journalism panel — never talked about arts journalism. There was a discussion about film criticism during the film track, and a couple of conversations about music journalism, online tastemakers and such. But arts writing wasn’t part of the broader conversation. I think this is a major oversight, the same way I think the laying off of film critics all over the country was a major mistake. Yes, there are a million bloggers posting about every kind of art you can imagine, especially film and pop music. But the number of voices in the conversation is no reason to step out of it entirely.

Speaking of critics, let’s start with the decade’s most defensive discussion of film criticism!

Keep reading...

Hyperbole in Film Criticism & Analysis (Film track panel)
This panel made me uncomfortable. I don’t think I’m one of the publicist-ass-kissing hacks the panelists repeatedly trashed, but the emphasis on said trashing felt defensive in a strange and unpleasant way. What about the flip side? Which critics do the panelists read? Which currently working writers do they admire? Why?

To be fair, it wasn’t all peer-trashing, and some of that peer-trashing is good and deserved. But the judgemental tone was off-putting. The moderator, Eric Childress (of eFilmCritic), asked the panelists — Cinematical managing editor Scott Weinberg, whose Twitter feed you really should follow; Drew McWeeny, whom some old-time Ain't It Cool News readers may remember as Moriarty; the impeccably dressed and eloquent James Rocchi; Jen Yamato (also of Cinematical); and lone print critic Marjorie Baumgarten of the Austin Chronicle — what the worst trend in film criticism was; where was the follow-up question in which we got to hear about the good stuff? A little less mocking and a little more discussion about what needs to change (and how to change it) might’ve saved the panel from veering perilously close to bitch session territory.

That aside, I appreciated a lot of what the panelists had to say when they did take a more positive tack. I admired the way Rocchi could quickly defuse the group when the conversation got a little too mean-spirited; I think I was the only person who laughed (appreciatively) when he said that part of the joy of the job is “being in a long tradition of people smarter than you.” I was glad to hear Weinberg talk about his position that the people interviewing the actors and the people writing the reviews should be different people. I loved that Yamato was willing, in the face of peers saying Twilight was “culturally dangerous,” to simply say, “I like Twilight.” McWeeny talked about making reviews interesting whether or not readers have seen the film. Rocchi used the apt term “informed enthusiasm” and Baumgarten talked about the idea that a critic is a writer first.

Weinberg argued that words like “possibly” have no place in film criticism, and while I don’t entirely agree, I was glad to see the conversation get particular — and personal. Writing about art is personal; talking about writing about art can be even more personal. I understand the defensive stance. I just wish the conversation were more about changing and improving than tearing down the folks who are doing it wrong. I agreed with almost every point that the panelists made when the moderator asked about the worst trends in film crit — the move toward the binary; leaving out the middle ground; sloppy writing; attention grabbers — and I liked every writer on the panel. So why’d I wind up feeling like theirs was a club I’d never be allowed to join?

(You can listen to a few clips from this panel here.)

Media Armageddon: What Happens When The New York Times Dies
Panel Armageddon: What happens when you go to a panel and it’s a rehash of the same old media vs. new media conversation that’s been going on online for ages? You skip the rest of the panel, which started off on a difficult foot when Markos Moulitsas from Daily Kos said he wanted traditional media outlets to “do their job.” Who gets to define that job? Him? The outlets? The readers?

Props to whoever changed the hashtag for the panel to #endtimes, but I could only take so much rehash of whether or not bloggers could fill the hole left by the imaginary nonexistence of the NYT before I split. Old media has credibility! New media doesn’t fact-check! Sweeping statements help no one! Discuss. (Good notes on the panel are here, if you’d like more.)

Online Tastemakers: Death or Rebirth of Music Curation?
See that title? That kind of title can limit the panel by building an either/or right into the framework of the discussion. What about “What the Web Means for Music Curation”? “Why the Hell Anyone Still Cares About Music Curation is Beyond Us, But We Sure Are Happy About It”? Or “Is there Room for More Than One Kind of Curator?”

I got hung up on the second slide the panel showed, which said something to the effect of “Everyone’s a critic — mainstream challenged.” Hang on a sec. If everyone’s a critic, how is that not a good thing? If you actually mean everyone is thinking critically about the media they consume, it is. And while it’s fine for the mainstream to be challenged by this, I’d rather the mainstream find ways to be inspired by it.

The relationship of the mainstream to the — sorry, I’ve got to say it — blogosphere was something Christopher Weingarten commented on when he said that blogs and magazines are now responding to opinions (rather than forming them, I assume). The cycle is different because of leaks, because of the access (however dubiously legal) so many people have to music. I’m not sure the cycle changing is necessarily a bad thing; we just have to adapt to it, and to understand that people want different things from different outlets. No one source — site, Twitter, blog, magazine, paper — can start every conversation, but there are always new things to bring to it. (And it’s worth remembering, as Richard Nash said during the Q&A portion, that long-form criticism is a cultural object too.)

Anya Grundmann from NPR said that they want to create an experience for people who want to be on top of things but don’t have time for it. Isn’t that what the mainstream media is for in a lot of ways? For the people who want to know what’s going on out there but don’t have the time or the inclination to use Google reader to track a thousand specialized websites and blogs?

A woman in the audience asked, “If everyone is a curator, is anyone a curator?” — a question which got everyone’s attention because if there’s one thing all kinds of media do well, it’s get defensive about our relevance. It’s a valid concern — if everyone is a curator, for whom are we curating? Each other, I suppose, but that’s the fate of music nerds since day one: Music nerds write for other music nerds, not for the people who hear a song on the radio, go buy it, and don’t care what anyone says about it. But this question, and the question in the title of the panel, both get close to a topic that came up slightly antagonistically at one point in the panel: Can anybody be a curator? Who decides? There’s a faction that says no, only some people can do this right. There’s also a faction — and one I more closely align with — that says yes. Yes, but the thing is, it’s work, and not everyone wants to work at it.

Online tastemakers aren’t the death or the rebirth of music curation. They’re a step in the evolution. What we need now is a discussion of how that evolution is continuing: with algorithms and code? With more humans at more keyboards? What’s the next form music writing, and music curating, is going to take? When do you start downloading MP3s with commentary coded right in, so it pops up in a little box in your iTunes? Do we want that? What do we want? Why?

April 2, 2010 02:17 PM

Erik Abel (aka Animal Farm's Gen.Erik) from Focused Noise sent over a link to this video, which is sort of a video scrapbook/goofy behind-the-scenes look at the experience Focused Noise artists Animal Farm, Serge Severe and Mic Crenshaw had at SXSW. Skinny men in green bodysuits, missing Thai food restaurants, free hugs in the middle of the street — it's all here.

(Holy shit, it's the Wild Things dude! That guy was everywhere!)

April 2, 2010 01:43 PM

There’s a simple reason why it’s three weeks down the line and I’ve yet to write about SXSW Interactive, which is the part of SXSW with the most panels: Every time I sit down to do just that, I feel like the top of my head pops off and things just start pouring out — unsorted thoughts, ideas, information, complaints, exclamations, genuine glee. It’s just SO BIG. It’s a nerd and tech conference; it’s got too many tracks to keep track of, unless you’re really focused on the design aspect or the development stuff or the personal stuff or … whatever it is you want out of it. You make your own SXSWi out of the pieces you put together. And since this was my first time to the event, I tried to grab a lot of pieces.

(Lesson one: Get to Austin on Thursday. Get your bag o’ crap and your book o’ info and settle in somewhere and do your goddamn homework. Figure out what’s most important to you. Don’t lock yourself in, but prioritize. Remember that the big book has names and associations of panelists. These are important.)

I started, on Friday afternoon, with a workshop called The Revenge of Editorials. It started with the history of publishing. It meant well, but after a suprising fire alarm moment — hello, Twitter, proving your extra special SXSW worth from the word go — I opted to skip over to Pay TV vs. Internet: The Battle for Your TV, which, according to NYT writer David Carr’s Twitter, was getting feisty.

In retrospect, these two panels taught me two very important lessons about SXSW panels:

1. Look at where the people giving a panel/speech/workshop are from. Are you interested in their business? If not, don’t go. Several times, I ditched panels because I felt like people from specific businesses were just there to promote their offerings. That’s great if it’s what you’re looking for, and mildly agonizing if not. (This isn’t why I left the Editorials panel early, to be fair.)

2. Too much is built on dualities and either/or scenarios. This is true in the real world, but it was particularly frustratingly true at SXSWi, where I felt like we should have been looking for new ideas, new visions, not pitting old media against new, bloggers against magazine writers, one new gizmo against another. Watching Mark Cuban and Avner Ronen talk about whether the internet or your television would dominate in terms of eyes on TV programs, I grew more and more uncomfortable. Why is this an either/or question? Why does there have to be one victor, one way to do it? Why do we frame so many questions in this way? Can’t we watch TV on Hulu and on cable? Don’t we watch TV on Hulu and on cable? So one makes more money than the other. So what?

Friday was a slow day for panels, which got started later than they would the rest of the conference, but from then on, things got busy. So: SXSW Panels, Part One: Miscellany (Keep reading...)

Why Keep Blogging? Real Answers for Smart Tweeple
The short answer to the question the name poses: Because you want to. Because you’re passionate about what you write. Because it’s a different format. Though the answers are common sense, the panelists were smart, engaging and funny. They spoke quite a bit about not stagnating, encouraging bloggers to keep changing, keep thinking about how the conversation evolves and changes, and work with the way blogs allow for a more sustained conversation than the blasts that come out of Twitter. It’s that sustained conversation that keeps me a blog addict and a Twitter junkie at the same time; I want sustained thought and argument and engagement, but hey, short attention spans need to be fed, too.

Booze Blogging: Liquid Conversation

If someone offers you a pickleback, don’t drink it. That was the main thing I took away from this panel, which was fun — hey, there were drinks! — but disorganized. After a bit of basic cocktail history, it veered off into talk of viral drinks (the pickleback, a shot of Jameson followed by a shot of pickle juice) (No, I’m not kidding. See above, though the cups are reversed), food laws affecting bartenders (no egg drinks allowed? Sacrilege!) and the idea of bartenders being treated with the admiration of chefs (as, panelists said, some were pre-Prohibition).

And then a woman from a Texas vodka company started talking her employer. Remember rule #1: If someone on a panel is from a specific business, be sure you’re interested in that business before you commit to the panel. I grew steadily more frustrated with what felt like a promo for Tito’s (perfectly good) vodka. It veered back into the topic at hand — blogging — via a discussion of ethics and trends. I was hoping for more nerdy cocktail history than nightlife and trends, but so it goes; panel descriptions are brief, and you can’t always know what you’re getting into. And there’s nothing wrong with an afternoon hour spent listening to people talk about drinks, especially when there’s a, shall we say, hands-on aspect.

A Brave New Future for Book Publishing
Last year, there was a panel about book publishing that a friend referred to as “a bloodbath.” You could hear the screams all the way across the country, thanks to Twitter. (Here’s one summary. There are plenty.) This year was not a bloodbath, but at least one person who works in publishing felt about it the same way I felt about a yet-to-be-blogged panel about journalism: too much of the same old topics. Will art books — not books full of art, but books designed to be art as well as text — save publishing? What do print on demand and e-readers mean for the industry? How is the publishing landscape changing, from editors (who may be more “curators” in the future) to bookstores (will they consist just of printing machines, coffee bars and couches?)?

One of the most interesting things that I got out of the panel was the change to the process of selling books; Pablo Defendini from Tor.com (a superb publisher website, by the by) said that big publishers’ audience used to be book buyers for chains and Amazon; now, it’s the readers. If that’s how the future looks, obviously publishers are going to have to reconsider their marketing and advertising strategies. They’re going to have to find ways to connect, be it via a really interactive Twitter account or as-yet-un-dreamt-up web presence. Whatever it is, I think it’s awesome: Books are for the readers, not the book buyers, so why shouldn’t they be the people the publishers are talking to?

I used to work in book publishing and so am deeply attached to this topic, but I know not everyone is. So I’ll save the rest of my thoughts on this topic for a separate post.

Next: SXSW Panels, Part II: Journalism topics

April 1, 2010 12:26 PM

Photobucket

Shiloh Fernandez, Ashley Greene and Heath Freeman in Skateland.

The ’80s couldn’t possibly have been this cozy. Skateland, Anthony Burns’ 1983-set coming of age story, is warm, welcoming and seen through a high gloss of nostalgia. The gorgeous light and loving cinematography say more about how Burns and company feel about the decade than any number of goofy, throwaway lines about how hot the cars (and the high-waisted jeans) were.

Skateland wears its John-Hughes-loving heart firmly on its sleeve even before the words “in memory of John Hughes” pop up at the beginning of the credits. Burns uses the sentimental value of pop songs like a true Hughes devotee; his female characters are perceptive and loyal in a way that suggests the influence of Watts and Amanda Jones from the Hughes-penned Some Kind of Wonderful.

But Skateland is no John Hughes movie. (Keep reading...)

For the most part, it succeeds at what Burns said, in the after-film Q&A, he wanted to do: tell an honest story of the era. Skateland follows 19-year-old Ritchie Wheeler (Shiloh Fernandez) through one uncertain summer. His dreams get cracked; his parents split up; the skating rink where he works is going to close. He’s a writer with a slow-burning thing for the girl next door, Michelle (Twilight’s Ashley Greene, looking oddly like Teri Hatcher). Michelle's older brother, Brent (co-writer Heath Freeman), has recently returned home after things went vaguely awry with his motorcross career. (Ritchie’s other best bud, blond ladies’ man Kenny, is played by Taylor Handley of the Eugene-set Zerophilia.)

Summer drifts by like summers do. Parties, work, hanging out. Ritchie’s happy enough not making a plan for his future, which drives Michelle crazy. It drives me crazy that Michelle’s character is so built around Ritchie; she comes close to displaying depths and desires and her own agenda, but Skateland is so fully Ritchie’s film that her character’s second-fiddle position is primarily to push and push at her foot-dragging beau. On the flip side, too much of Ritchie’s easygoing, indecisive character is built on Michelle’s perception of him: She loves his writing, but we never see a piece of it. Similarly, he’s attached to Skateland, but the rink’s closing is a catalyst — at the very least, Ritchie has to get a new job — and little else. It’s there as a parallel to Ritchie’s parents’ divorce, and neither is satisfactorily explored. Each is a marker, a brief indicator of the way change is affecting this little East Texas town.

If Burns (and his fellow writers, Brandon and Heath Freeman) is a little transparent in his plotting, Skateland is nonetheless disproportionately lovely to look at, a hazy vision of 1983 as seen by someone who heard the stories and is sure it was an awesome time. Though the plot trucks along conventionally, the last reveal is so gentle and generous, it brought a lump to my throat. And, oddly, a pivotal car chase suggests that Burns has a future as an action movie director. The automotive face-off between Ritchie and Brent and the Four Horsemen, as their nemeses are dubbed, is tense, fierce and, most importantly, coherent. Burns never loses track of exactly where his characters are, which heightens and sustains the sense of danger.

The filmmaking here is sleek and sharp (the long take that opens the film is the roller rink’s best moment), and the production design is spotlessly, amusingly period. But the fact is, I keep thinking Adventureland when I should be thinking Skateland. As goes Ritchie, with his sleepy eyes and reluctantce to face change, so goes the film, which drifts too indulgently to make much of an impression. But damn, if it doesn’t look good.

March 30, 2010 07:34 PM

I would be wary of too highly praising the low-key and charming Cold Weather were it not for one thing: I went into the movie with what might've been, in another film, an unfairly high level of anticipation. A critic whose opinion I generally hold in high regard, L.A. Weekly’s Karina Longworth, called it the first unqualified hit of SXSW.

So I had expectations. And I’m glad I had time to sit with my thoughts about the film, to lets its damp windows and dingy motel drift through my mind as I walked around Austin, or sat on a plane on the way home, or stared out the window, dotted with rain just like the one in the film’s opening scene. Aaron Katz’s third film is confident — so much so that its ending feels like a shock. At first.

Cold Weather is a perfect depiction of a certain kind of aimlessness, the kind that comes not from lack of talent, or lack of skill, but lack of impetus. Its main character, Doug (Cris Lankenau), carries his lack of direction in his posture, slump-shouldered and stiff-armed. He’s ditched a degree in forensic science to move in with his sister, Gail (Trieste Kelly Dunn), in a Portland apartment full of unopened boxes and half-built Ikea coffee tables. She works in an office; he gets a job in an ice factory, where he makes friends with Carlos (Raúl Castillo), who doesn’t believe that Doug loves Sherlock Holmes novels. Doug, in turn, doesn’t really believe Carlos is a DJ. Everyone’s expectations of everyone else are as fogged as rain-streaked glass.

When Doug’s ex, Rachel (Robyn Rikoon), turns up, the film shifts, but it’s not a love triangle. It becomes, swiftly and delightfully, a mystery like the ones Doug so loves to read. And he becomes a detective, poring over books on cryptography and lifting penciled codes from a notepad. The library is his biggest toolbox, Gail his best assistant; she’s as reluctantly game for Doug’s detective efforts as she is, earlier in the film, to play hooky for a day and go to the overcast Oregon coast (I’m not sure it’s ever actually sunny in this film. Not raining, sure. But sunny? I can’t recall a bright scene). Their efforts are goofy, sweet, absurd and effective, and have the added effect of making TV detectives, with their fitted suits and terse dialogue, seem patently ridiculous.

Cold Weather is Katz’s third feature to premiere at SXSW. His earlier films — which I’ve yet to see — stir people to reference mumblecore, and I can see the connection in the natural, meandering conversations of his characters, in their ordinary jobs and perfectly individual, perfectly ordinary apartments, jackets, heavy wool sweaters. But Cold Weather is more formally lovely than any mumblecore film I’ve yet seen (and I do have a modest taste for the genre, if you can really call it that). Its cool Oregon light is perfect; its framing is precise; its dialogue is crisply convincing, dryly funny (Doug, fixated on his quest, decides he must have a pipe; his shopping experience does not go as expected) and perfectly balanced, revealing without ever leaving the characters to explain too much. So much is caught in the physical, in the stolen sip of coffee Longworth mentions in her review, or in the body language of Gail and Doug as they hunch over a bar or lean over the ledge of their apartment building’s roof, dropping grapes and watching them splatter. Theirs is a slightly contentious, ever impatient sibling revelry, smartly observed and elegantly depicted in Katz’s compact, playfully moody film. I hope you get to see it.

March 30, 2010 04:27 PM

Warpaint @ Lustre Pearl [unofficial day show] Lustre Pearl, a converted house just blocks away from the Austin Convention Center (and right behind an IHOP), might’ve been my favorite venue of the week. The building, tucked behind a rusty fence (the pic above was taken while I stood in line), is small, just a few rooms, one taken over by a bar, but the backyard area is huge, and complete with taco truck. The delight of finding a Brooklyn Lager (a sentimental choice) went nicely with the delight of finding Warpaint absofuckinglutely amazing. They were good at Sam Bond’s last year. They were superb in the middle of the afternoon in Austin, creating a dense, precise wash of sound, winding vocals in and out with such ease that it seemed like the music just hung there, undulating, in the middle of the sprawling white tent. I can’t remember songs. I can’t remember how many there were, or which they played, or if they were the ones I wanted to hear. It wasn’t that kind of show. It was like a big aural vacuum: You’re sucked in, you live in it, and then it’s over and nothing that comes next is going to be quite as good.

I nommed a fantastic taco and split after four Rogue Wave songs. I love Rogue Wave as much as the next pop-harmony sucker, but my magical spell had been all busted up and I wanted to be somewhere else.

Frightened Rabbit @ Mess With Texas [non-SXSW awesome minifestival] Standing in line for the Mess With Texas fest, a delightful bit of counterprogramming that I would commit unpleasant acts to have happen in Eugene, I heard Billy Bragg, and I cursed whatever bit of timing had made me arrive when I did, and not half an hour earlier. Bragg broke into “A New England” and I got goosebumps; is there a more plaintive, honest love-longed-for song? Could it be sung in a better voice than Bragg’s haunting, slightly creaky British tones? The answer you’re looking for is “No.”

The FRabbits were lovely and the crowd was huge and the sound was imperfect. I stood in the back, too close to a tent in which the curious, mostly women, were perching on a Harley-Davidson and revving the shit out of it. You can see how that might affect the mood. But I'd watch Frightened Rabbit through just about anything.

Jenny Owen Youngs @ Live Create Lounge The Live Create Lounge was well-stocked with free nutrional bars, phone chargers and overpriced beer. I took appropriate advantage of each and watched Youngs, who looks like a poster girl from the ’60s and sings like it’s as easy as breathing. Her pop-folk songs tend to the catchy and disconcertingly sweet-sounding, with an underlying steeliness, and she deserved to play to a bigger, more attentive crowd.

Anya Marina @ Maggie Mae’s I was curious about two things: Marina with a band, and the venue in which she was playing, with its multiple levels and slightly confusing staircases. Marina with band was fine, but unexpectedly lackluster, despite her perky, “fuck”-dotted stange banter; I think she’s got more personality than is showing through in her songs. Maggie Mae’s offered a nice vantage point from which to look down on Sixth Street, where the crowds had yet to reach their full nighttime density.

Patrick Stump @ Dirty Dog Bar Stump practically snuck onto the stage; there was no fanfare, and if some people didn’t immediately recognize the Fall Out Boy singer, newly shorn and less more than a few pounds, it seemed likely he liked it that way. (“Hi. I’m Patrick,” was all he offered as introduction.) But there was an off-kilter feel to his five-song performance. He tore around the stage for the first song, getting loops going with each instrument, proving himself a capable musician, but when the song finally settled in, there just wasn’t much to it: a bit of funk, that soulful vocal delivery, and what else? It wasn’t just Stump’s feverish uncertainty — which suits him when it’s in the lyrics; one song trades “This is my confession” for “I’ve got nothing to confess” in a matter of seconds — it was the nagging feeling that maybe these tunes (unrecorded, he said) weren’t ready for their close-up just yet. Operative word there being "yet."

Les Savy Fav @ Galaxy Room Backyard At one in the morning, those that aren’t wearing out are getting wearing on those that are. You follow me? Les Savy Fav’s Tim Harrington was as cuckoo as ever — was that a Wild Things costume he was wearing at first? — tearing about the stage, fucking with the lights, ripping up glowsticks, all that jazz, but something was missing. Penultimate SXSW night blues? The general lack of movement in the crowd? Everyone woke up for “Patty Lee,” which mustered up a bit of a singalong. It went like this: “Back before Babylon,” Harrington roared, and fans joined in, “SHIT WAS COOL!” This was almost as awkward — and equally entertaining — as when crowds sing along with Cursive’s self-aware songs about being self-aware dudes in a self-aware band.